Barcelona are Kings of Europe again

By Steve Mitchell

Barcelona have won the treble after claiming their fourth Champions League title in nine years to round off a wonderful season for coach Luis Enrique. The 45-year-old tactician has now equalled the feat of former coach Pep Guardiola who also claimed a clean sweep in his first season in charge at the Camp Nou. Following on from their domestic league and cup successes the Catalan side were made to work extremely hard to win Europe’s top club prize by a Juventus team that left the Olympiastadion in Berlin with their heads held high.

When Ivan Rakitić put the overwhelming pre-match favourites into a fourth minute lead many observers feared that this final could be one of the most one sided in years but the Italian champions dusted themselves down and gradually got a foothold in the game. As they grew in stature, Barcelona showed uncharacteristic lapses of concentration as Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba stamped their authority on the game. They deservedly levelled the contest 10 minutes after half-time when a brilliant reverse pass from Marchisiofound Stephan Lichtsteinerwho in turn played the ball inside to Carlos Tévez. His fierce shot was only parried by German goalkeeper Marc terStegen to on-loan Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata who couldn’t miss from six yards out to claim his fifth goal in this season’s competition.

The Italian side were in the ascendency but against the run of play, the match was effectively settled in a frantic, controversialpassage on 68 minutes. Juventus claimed for what seemed like a definite penalty when French international Paul Pogba looked to have been pulled down inside the area by Brazilian Dani Alves but their protests were waived away by Turkish referee CüneytÇakιr. Less than a minute later with the Italian side still seething with the match officials, Barcelona went ahead for a second time. Lionel Messi picked up the ball halfway inside the Juventus half, took off on one of his trademark dribbles before unleashing a shot that goalkeeper Gigi Buffon failed to hold only steering it into the path of Uruguayan hot shot Luis Suárez who fired home.

As Barcelona celebrated, Alvaro Morata was still remonstrating with the referee about the penalty incident as the game started to slip away from the Serie A champions. Shortly afterwards Brazilian sensation Neymar looked to have settled the tie but his header deflected off his own hand on its way to goal and was ruled out. Juventus threw caution to the wind as full backs Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evraabandoned their defensive duties in a desperate attempt to level things for the Turin giants. Twelve minutes from time, Enrique replaced the outstanding Andreas Iniesta with Xavi who was making his final appearance for the club after a glittering career which has seen the midfield legend collect 27 trophies. This was his 151st appearance in the Champions League and he now holds the all-time record for the competition.

Juventus replaced goal scorer Morata with the big Spanish striker Fernando Llorente in the hope that his aerial prowess could force the game into extra time. Barcelona still looked to exploit the spaces left in defence to put the match beyond any doubt. In the 97th minute they did just that as another five man counter attack culminated with the impressive Neymar firing home with the very last kick of the contest. The golden boy of Brazilian football ended the competition as joint top scorer with 10 goals alongside teammate Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid. The final score was harsh on a Juventus side that for long periods of the game more than matched their much fancied opponents. As Andrea Pirlo broke down in tears at the final whistle you sensed he knew he’d lost a final chance to add to his two Champions League winners medals although afterwards he quashed rumours that he was about to leave Italy for a lucrative contract in the MLS.

Juventus have now lost four out of the five finals they’ve appeared in but this was a defeat with dignity and coach Massimo Allegri expressed how proud he was of his players as the team headed home where they received a generous welcome from their devoted supporters. His opposite number claimed he was “uncertain about his future” despite winning the treble in his first season at the helm stating that “tonight I’m just going to enjoy myself with the players and staff”. The party went on long into the night and throughout all of Sunday as thousands of fans lined the streets to welcome home their heroes.

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